Dive Brief:

  • The Massachusetts Department of Education is partnering with Boston Public Schools after a review revealed alleged system-wide failures including “staggering” absenteeism, The 74 reports.
  • Though not a takeover, the district must adhere to strict new requirements set by the state intended to help the district improve. The district will stay under local control, but Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley will oversee its progress on issues ranging from transportation to chronic absenteeism.
  • The move will impact the district’s 54,000 students and comes after Massachusetts lawmakers recently completed a large funding overhaul. 

Dive Insight:

The partnership between the state and district is unique, according to Marty West, a professor of education at Harvard University and member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state has initiated takeovers of smaller districts in the past, including Lawrence and Holyoke. And in the Lawrence takeover, Riley was credited with the district’s academic turnaround.

Unlike other Massachusetts districts involved in takeovers, Boston has some of the strongest schools in the state. It also has a robust charter sector and has been called a top-performing district among large cities. But the report by Riley’s team also indicates a third of the district’s students attend schools in the bottom 10% in the state, and its special education was said to be in “systemic disarray.”

While BPS will lead the charge on launching turnaround initiatives, the state will help it recruit and retain a more diverse workforce and foster partnerships.

States taking over local districts are not always successful, though. In Tennessee, schools in the state-run Achievement School District (ASD) did not show improvement, but those in locally run Innovation Zones (iZones), an alternative intervention model, did show moderate improvement. While the iZone schools showed positive effects in the subjects of math and science, but not so much in reading. Overall, ASD did not show any difference, while iZone schools did not show consistent improvement, with only some cohorts making gains.

State takeovers of school districts seem to be falling out of favor at large. Takeover efforts in Nevada and North Carolina, for example, fizzled with little political support and few interested charter operators. In 2019, Nevada said it was shutting down its achievement school district after two years, and North Carolina had only one school in its Innovation School District after it launched three years prior.

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